June 21st, 2011 @

Italians have a lower infant mortality rate and live an average of slightly two years longer than Americans. Americans have a life expectancy of 78.11 years at birth. The Italian life expectancy is 80.20 years. This statistic applies to Italy overall, but on the Italian island of Sardinia, inhabitants frequently live to 100. This includes men, who are usually outlived by women.

Many causes factor into the longer Italian life expectancy, including genetics and the healthcare differences between the two countries. One major probable factor in Italians living longer than their American counterparts is a hearty-healthy Mediterranean diet.

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When one considers the Italian diet superficially, it doesn’t seem particularly healthy, being loaded with pasta, meat, and fatty cheeses. One thing that Italians consume a lot of is red wine, which is known to be good for the heart in moderation. Red wine contains antioxidants, such as flavonoids and polyphenols. One polyphenol called resveratrol may help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce bad cholesterol, and prevent blood clots.

Italy is famous for olive oil production. Olive oil is a healthy fat and can be consumed immediately after being pressed from the fruit. Like red wine, olive oil contains antioxidants that help protect against heart disease. Extra virgin olive oil, from the first pressing of the fruits, contains more antioxidants because it’s less processed. Olive oil may also aid in preventing colon cancer.

When thinking of the typical Italian pasta sauce, one immediately thinks of spices such as basil, oregano, and garlic. Italians use spices for flavoring more than salt. Americans typically consume 9 to 12 grams of salt a day, twice what the American Heart Association recommends. Too much salt leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. Cooking with spices, like the Italians do, and cutting back on salt is another element of the Mediterranean diet that leads to improved heart health.

Other healthy components of the Mediterranean diet include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes. Basing meals around these ingredients, rather than meat, is healthier than the typical American diet.

While there are other factors involved in the long lives of the residents of Sardinia, such as genetics, it’s undeniable that a glass or two of red wine a day and cooking with olive oil and spices rather than salt shows a marked improvement in heart health and contributes to a longer life, and healthier golden years for many Italians.


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